Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman relive the magic of 2001
Batting can be a business of extreme isolation. Cricket matches are won and lost, or indeed drawn, by the collective, but each batsman bears the burden of his survival and run-scoring, unlike, for example, in football, where a goal is often the product of several assists, or in doubles tennis, where a partner can set up a winning volley with a deep groundstroke.
Yet partnerships are the lifeblood of cricket, through which innings are shaped and sustained. The performance that defined Brian Lara's career, the match-winning 153 against Australia in Barbados in 1999, wouldn't have been possible without Jimmy Adams' stolid resistance for nearly three hours, and it would have been remembered as a piece of valiant tragedy without Courtney Walsh's comic resistance for five balls.
Though celebrated, the dynamics of partnerships are seldom explored in depth. We chose to do so through two batsmen whose careers have been signposted by series-altering partnerships. Though Eden Gardens hyphenated Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman for a lifetime and beyond, it was a relationship forged over years through the Under-19 levels and at South Zone. Like many successful batting pairs, their tunes and rhythms were dissimilar, but what they had in common - resolve, mental toughness and the capacity to score big - mattered much more.
When we brought them together it felt like the clock had been rewound. The conversation lasted well over two hours. Memories flowed, the chemistry was back, and in the last hour it was Kolkata once again.
Dravid: "Each of us is unique in that we like to bat in a particular way"
© Getty Images
Dravid: "Each of us is unique in that we like to bat in a particular way" © Getty Images
Sambit Bal: Compared to bowlers, is the relationship between batting partners more interdependent?
VVS Laxman: There is no dependence, but there is always a helping hand from the other end, especially when you're going into a tough phase, when you're playing against tough opponents in tough situations. There is a relationship formed in the middle, where you are two guys against 11 guys who are trying to get you out. Your partner can stop you from getting distracted and stop you from making mistakes. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, when there's a lot of pressure and you forget the basics, there is someone there to calm you down or to tell you that what you're doing is right or wrong.
Bal: A good partner can make your life a little easier…
Laxman: It always helps. I've always enjoyed batting with Rahul. I was 16 when I first saw Rahul during the U-19s. I did well for the Hyderabad U-16s and got picked for the U-19s. He was three years senior to me. Since then we've played against each other or with each other, so it helps when you have a good relationship, a good rapport, and you understand each other. Sometimes he would come and tell me that it's not working according to my game plan. He would never interfere too much but just put his point of view across and that is sometimes helpful.
Rahul Dravid: I guess each of us is unique in that we like to bat in a particular way or have certain mannerisms, or certain ways we like to approach batting. There are people who like to talk a lot. Then there are others who don't like to chat. So when you're a young player coming up, I think having the right partner does make a difference. If you have someone who can just talk you through that part of the game, that does make a difference.
I didn't like someone who was constantly chatting to me from the other end. I remember getting into the Ranji Trophy team and batting with a senior player, and he had the habit of constantly talking between balls. I'm not saying he was trying to disturb me but that was his method. He thought he was helping me. He would talk to me from the other end and say, "Oh, well played", "Well done", "Do this", and that was disturbing for me and I didn't like that when the over had started. Once I got a little more confident I was able to go up to him and tell him, "Between balls don't talk to me. I understand you like to talk, so at the end of the over you talk as much as you want and I don't mind it, but between balls… "
"Batting with someone like Viru, or with Laxman at various phases, you have to be careful to not get carried away"
Bal: Does it help if you're batting with somebody who is not like you? If you were batting with someone like yourself, it might have become too intense.
Dravid: The scoreboard wouldn't have moved, probably! I think it definitely does help if you complement the other person, as long as you are not getting carried away. Batting with someone like Viru [Sehwag] or batting with Laxman at various phases, one of the things you have to be careful of is to not get carried away. They hit some amazing shots and you're standing at the other end saying, "Wow, this is brilliant and I should be doing this as well."
Bal: Have you ever got carried away?
Dravid: Sure, when you're standing at the other end and you watch Viru perfectly hit a four, you envy it and you think, "Jeez, I wish I could do that". But I learnt very quickly that I've got my own game and it brings certain values to the team, and I have my own style of scoring runs and it's effective for me and I've got to stay at that. When Viru was playing like he was, or when Laxman was on a roll, one of the things I was conscious of was that I didn't want to hog the strike too much. I wanted to turn it over as much as possible. It didn't always happen, but in the back of my mind it was always there.
Bal: Didn't Sehwag sing and whistle in the middle? Did it distract you? Did you ever say, "Don't talk to me"?
Laxman: It's not that he was distracting us. Whenever he was losing his concentration he either sang or whistled. So you didn't interfere in his preparation or in his effort to get back his concentration.
Bal: You would never tell him, "Hey, don't play this shot"?
Dravid: I think we learnt very quickly with Viru that you don't try and give him too much advice. One of the good things with Viru, at least with me, is he also recognised that I didn't like to be disturbed between balls. I always felt that I had a routine between balls and there wasn't a lot of time where you could listen to someone else. At the end of the over when the two of you came together there was time.
So at times like that I didn't mind listening to him and I found joking and having a laugh quite relaxing. I didn't mind that too much at all. I always felt that he was not someone who would stand at the non-striker's end and give me advice unless he felt that there was something he wanted to say specifically. We didn't really talk across the wicket like that.
Dravid and Laxman put on 4065 runs together in 86 Tests, at an average of 51.45
© Getty Images
Dravid and Laxman put on 4065 runs together in 86 Tests, at an average of 51.45 © Getty Images
Bal: Tell me about batting with Sachin [Tendulkar]. I think that you were temperamentally closer to Sachin than to Laxman and Sehwag, because you were both technically sound batsmen who liked batting long.
Dravid: Laxman was the same. He batted for long periods of time, but just made it look a lot prettier than a lot of us did. Temperamentally, VVS was a lot similar to us in that sense, because he grew up in that old school - of wanting to construct and build innings, and of wanting to score big runs. I'm not saying that others didn't want to do that but he was of that calm, relaxed mindset where batting for long periods was important.
Bal: I wanted to talk to you about Sachin because you scored 6920 runs with him, a Test partnership record.
Dravid: With Sachin, I think it was always very easy.
Bal: Did the two of you talk a lot?
Dravid: Again, not too much. But when we came to the middle, if there was a need to talk, we would have a chat about a few things. Early on, at least when I was a youngster, it was a bit more. Maybe he felt that he had to help me along or talk me through certain situations, but as I became more senior and more established in the side, he didn't feel the need to.
There would be some general discussions. For example, if one of us noticed that the ball is reversing, you might go and have a chat. Or we might be passing on information about a bowler either of us had played before. But it wasn't too much more.
Laxman: I remember the first time I played reverse swing was in Alwar, when we played against West Zone [in 1995]. Salil Ankola was at his best and I remember Rahul coming and telling me that the ball is starting to reverse. So we developed this routine: if the bowler was holding the ball with the shine on the left side, the non-striker would ground the bat on the left side. And if the shine was on the right, the bat would be on the right.
Bal: You've talked about understanding. How important is trust?
Dravid: That plays a huge role because it's unnerving when you are batting with someone whose running between the wickets you're not confident about. So if you have a new player in the side it's unnerving because you're not sure how he is going to judge a particular run. Later on, you can get a sense of the kind of runs they are going to take. When the ball goes to a certain part of the ground, you get a sense of whether they are going to run two or three, and how much they are going to push you. And you also know how they run a single; where they drop the ball and run. With certain people there is a run when a ball is dropped in a certain area, but with certain people there won't be.
"It helps if you are batting with a person you know; not necessarily like, but know. But then it's ultimately a team game"
Bal: So what are the cues with someone you trust? Eye contact? Nodding of heads?
Laxman: As the partnership grows, usually it's just eye contact. But you always follow the basics of running, which is to call. When there's a lot of noise in the stadium, you show your hand because you don't want to lose your wicket via a run-out. I used to feel really bad when I ran out my partner.
I still remember in my first Test when I ran out [Mohammad] Azharuddin, who was my senior partner. I thought I could take a single. [South Africa's] Jonty Rhodes had the ball and even before I saw the ball, Azharuddin was halfway down the wicket. That's when I realised that it's very important to call. You can get lazy sometimes and in pressure situations you can forget the basics. It's important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your batting partner - some of them may be quick and some may not be quick. A lot of batsmen want to take singles early on in their innings and some of them don't want to until they've settled down.
Bal: Some batsmen are a little more selfish than others. Do some people run their own runs harder than their partner's runs?
Dravid: There are people who look to take strike at critical moments of the game, and that's not a nice thing. If you realise that your partner is looking to take strike at a crucial stage of the game, or on the fifth or sixth ball, then that's not good. That's not what partnerships should be about.
Laxman: I don't think I have experienced it, but I've heard stories. Especially when someone is batting well, they want to take a run off the last ball so they can play more deliveries. But I've never seen batsmen with whom I've played, especially since 2000, do that. I think everyone genuinely tried to help each other in the middle.
Dravid: There may be times when you're looking to turn over the strike to someone. If someone is on a roll, you're actually looking to give him more strike. So there's nothing wrong with that but there are other times when someone is just hogging the strike. It's frustrating because if you're out there for three or four overs and you haven't played many balls, then you lose that rhythm of batting. You have to start almost all over again.
Bal: How important is it to like the person you're batting with, or how is it batting with somebody that you don't really like?
Laxman: It helps if you are batting with a person you know; not necessarily like but know. But then it's ultimately a team game and the job for you and your partner is to get runs. And you cannot let the team down just because of personal issues you may have. Luckily for me, and I'm sure for Rahul, we never ever faced that kind of situation.
Bal: You are nice guys.
Dravid: We've played with some nice guys. I've never come across a single guy Laxman doesn't like.
Bal: While a partnership is collaboration, is there any sense of competition? For example, if somebody is batting well and you don't want to look second best.
Dravid: I wouldn't say you don't want to look second best. I think in my own mind I was pretty clear that I wanted to be the best and not try and worry about what the other guys were doing. But sure, there is a sense of competition, at least for me personally. If I saw Tendulkar or Laxman score runs, I wanted to score runs as well. I wanted to be part of the partnership. I wanted to be the one having the big partnership with Tendulkar or Laxman or whoever it was. So you use the people around you as an inspiration, rather than seeing them as rivals or competition.
Laxman: When I was growing up I wanted to match up to Rahul from South Zone, Amol Muzumdar from West, Sourav [Ganguly] from East, and Pankaj Dharmani from North. I used to never have competition from my Hyderabad colleagues. So that's how you raise your level. You don't want to just think about the cricketers you are close to or with whom you are on par. You want to get better. Once I started playing for the country, I never thought these players were competition, because everyone had a role to help the team.
You always look to others for inspiration. I still remember the 96 I got in Durban when we won in 2010. Before that, we had lost badly at Centurion but Sachin got a hundred. I remember telling Zak [Zaheer Khan] at the end of the Test, "Why should Sachin always score in tough situations? Why can't I do this?" I remember preparing really well for the Durban Test.
Saving the best for the best: in 29 Tests against Australia, Laxman averaged close to 50, with six centuries
© Getty Images
Saving the best for the best: in 29 Tests against Australia, Laxman averaged close to 50, with six centuries © Getty Images
Bal: But while you're batting in the middle, was there a temptation to bat stroke for stroke? If you're batting with Sachin or Sehwag or Rahul?
Laxman: Never ever. I could never hit a six. I realised quickly that I had to change my game plan batting at No. 6. Probably a Yuvraj Singh batting at No. 6 or a [MS] Dhoni could do that easily. I could not match some of these players in some of their skills, and they could not do what I was capable of doing.
Dravid: In a good partnership, if you felt someone was playing outside his comfort zone, or trying to match what you are doing, it is actually about going up and telling him, "Play your own game. Do what you do best."
Bal: What's the key to building a partnership? Do you plan it? Do you say, let's play in five-over blocks, or is it hour by hour? Do you decide who should tackle which bowler more?
Dravid: Not really. Test cricket is a hard place to hide. There might be a time where you come to the end of a day's play and you don't really fancy taking on a particular bowler for that short space of time. One over, two overs, or leading into a break, [you need] that trust with your partner to tell him, "Look it may be the last over of his spell. Can you just play it out for me? I just don't feel comfortable against him." I've had that a lot with all these guys at various stages. But no, it's not about sitting down beforehand and saying, "Let's plan our partnership this way."
Laxman: For me, while I really enjoyed batting with the main batsmen, what was equally important was my partnership with the tailenders. I used to have these conversations with them all the time. I still remember in the Perth Test [in 2008], me and RP Singh had a 50-plus run partnership. RP got 30 and he was not comfortable playing Brett Lee. So I took all the strike when Lee bowled and would then rotate the strike when the others were on. RP was able to comfortably play Shaun Tait and the rest.
"I think we'll always remember that partnership fondly, and I hope we won't bore too many people as we grow older, talking about it"
Bal: Let's talk about batting with the tail. You didn't have the game initially, because you didn't hit over the top. But you sort of trusted the tail. In fact, you were sometimes even criticised for not farming the strike.
Laxman: I was never used to batting at No. 6. I always batted at No. 3 or No. 4 for Hyderabad or South Zone. Suddenly I was pushed there and that was something that never came naturally to me. When you bat at No. 6, if one batsman gets out you are left with the wicketkeeper and the bowlers. Invariably when you are batting with the tail, the bowling team spreads the field, gives you a single, and tries to get your partner's wicket.
In the early days, I was trying to hit a four or a six, trying to take chances. I probably managed one or two boundaries but I never hit a six during that time. And I usually got caught in the deep. I realised there was no benefit for me or for the team, because we used to be bundled out within a span of 15-20 runs.
Then I watched a lot of videos of Steve Waugh and realised how much confidence he gave to his bowlers. I had a chat with Steve and he told me that he made sure that the bowlers understood their value as batsmen. That's what I started doing. I used to talk to Anil [Kumble] Harbhajan [Singh] or Zaheer, and luckily they had talent with the bat. It's important to instil belief and the only way you can show confidence is by giving them the strike. You can do all the talking outside the ground but if you then don't give them the strike they will feel neglected.
When John Wright was the coach he made each of us batting coaches for the bowlers. I had to make sure that Zaheer improved his batting skills.
During his knock in Mohali [in 2010] Ishant Sharma was really comfortable because he had a good, strong defensive technique. So he took the fight to the opposition. He said, "I'm not going to get out," and runs started leaking. He sometimes got an odd edge that went through the slips to third man, and the bowlers panicked and bowled some loose deliveries. Once you have a partnership of 20-30 runs, the pressure usually shifts to the opposition and that's what happened. So I was very fortunate that I played with bowlers who took a lot of pride in their batting.
Laxman: "I was fortunate that I played with bowlers who took pride in their batting"
© Associated Press
Laxman: "I was fortunate that I played with bowlers who took pride in their batting" © Associated Press
Bal: You guys swapped batting positions a few times. What sort of mental adjustments did you need to make? How different is batting at No. 6 for you?
Dravid: I didn't do it for long enough for me to actually have to change my game too much. But I guess the waiting was the difficulty for me. I was not used to it. I was just sitting there and watching other people bat and the tension tends to build up. So it's a question of getting used to the position, which is why I took a long time to get used to opening as well. I had got used to a routine of coming into the dressing room and sitting for some time. Suddenly having to go out and bat in ten minutes became quite a difficult thing. But I guess if I had batted at No. 6 more often, I would have figured out a way to stay relaxed during that period. I guess watching him [Laxman] would have been a good lesson.
Bal: He went to sleep…
Dravid: He slept a lot. He would lie down. He would relax. He probably wouldn't be thinking about the game too much. And he would put on headphones and listen to music all the time. So I guess he built that routine to deal with the fact that he had to wait for so long.
Laxman: The challenging part for me batting-position-wise was opening and batting at No. 6. Opening, I couldn't get used to. In ten minutes I had to come in and suddenly put on my pads and go in to bat. Batting at No. 6 was a tough learning experience. That's why I'm so happy when I see my performances at No. 6. It was something I did when I was out of my comfort zone, and it gave me a lot of satisfaction.
"Batting with someone you're comfortable with, batting with someone you enjoy watching - I think that's a special part of cricket"
Bal: What did you guys talk about in the middle?
Dravid: You don't need to say much. But it was a nice feeling. You might joke about something. You might laugh. There is this sense of relaxation. You're done with a session. You've got 40 minutes to go for a break, or the end of the day. So you sort of relax then. You can joke, you can laugh, you can talk about a certain aspect of the game.
Bal: Let's take Adelaide 2003. You are 85 for 4 - chasing - and Laxman comes in. What do you tell each other?
Laxman: The first thing I told him was not to think about Sourav's run-out. Rahul was really upset. You know when Rahul is upset because you can see it in his face. He was panicking because that was a big wicket and Sourav was batting well. So the first thing I told him was to not think about that, so that we could build a partnership. And somehow after that Kolkata Test, whenever we were in a tough situation we would always remember that. And we would talk about what we did there.
So we would always look to set small goals and play to the merit of the ball. You are 85 for 4 and they have scored 550-plus. It's too big a target. So you have to have smaller goals, probably one over, ten overs, and then a session. That's how it panned out.
Bal: So having Kolkata behind you was a big help?
Dravid: Definitely. You have those memories. You just sense a flow. You start dominating the bowling. You start scoring runs quickly. You're in control of what you're doing. You get past a hundred each. I think the best time to bat in a partnership is when both of you have got hundreds. You're really on song and everything is flowing; it's lovely then. You know you're going to turn the strike over. You're batting with someone who you're comfortable with, you're batting with someone who you enjoy watching. I think that's a special part of cricket.
Laxman: One important aspect in batting is to enjoy each situation. Rahul also used to enjoy batting well in tough situations. I think that's very important because whenever I used to walk out in a tough situation, I always thought there was an opportunity to do something special for the team. And I think having that feeling - instead of walking out and thinking, "Why am I again walking out in this situation?" - is important. Your mindset and how you react is very important. You have to accept the challenge.
Dravid: "The best time to bat in a partnership is when both of you have got hundreds"
© Getty Images
Dravid: "The best time to bat in a partnership is when both of you have got hundreds" © Getty Images
Bal: What is it about Australia? Was there anything about the way the Australians played that helped you or suited you?
Laxman: The way the Australians played helped not only me but the entire Indian team. I think we raised our level every time we played them. They used to play at a different level, so we had to match them. That brought the best out of all of us. I used to enjoy batting against them because the way they bowled was always to take wickets, and that created a lot of opportunities to score boundaries. There were usually a lot of gaps. I always enjoyed batting in Australian conditions. The quicker the ball used to come to me, the more I loved batting.
Dravid: If the bowling is not of a great standard or you don't feel that the opposition is putting pressure on you, you don't necessarily need your partner so much. But against Australia you always knew you were in a contest. They were on you all the time. That is when you really recognised the value of a partnership, which is why I guess some of our really good partnerships were against teams that loved a contest.
Bal: Did your relationship change in any manner after Rahul captained?
Laxman: Never ever, because he was the same. He has never ever changed as a person. Right from the first time I met him till today - he has never changed as a person. That is tough, especially in India. When you are captaining there's a lot of pressure, there are a lot of expectations. Sometimes the pressure can get to you, but he has never changed as a person.
Dravid: I don't think our relationship as friends ever changed. Obviously as captain one of the biggest challenges was who to pick and who to leave out. They were some of the most difficult conversations to have with people, because you invest a lot in people, you know a lot of them personally, they are your friends. Those kinds of conversations and those kinds of decisions take a lot out of you emotionally. They were some of the toughest times as a captain.
"Only when you give bowlers confidence will they understand their value as batsmen. And the only way you can show confidence is by giving them the strike"
Bal: You had to leave Laxman out a couple of times...
Dravid: When we played five bowlers, unfortunately he was the one to miss out. And it hurts you. It hurts you really bad. I've always asked leaders, wherever I meet them, how do you actually get over things like that? Because if you are emotionally invested, it hurts you personally. So that was the toughest thing. If you play with each other for many years there are going to be tricky times in any relationship, especially when you become captain or you change batting positions and you have to re-swap those batting positions when the team asks you to. But I am glad that over the years, in spite of all that, we have maintained that friendship and not really let it affect us.
Laxman: Yeah, I think it's important to understand that whatever the captain is doing is best for the team. Personally you would love to play every match but if you don't get an opportunity because the captain wants a certain combination to win against a particular opposition, you don't take it personally. Whenever I was left out, probably that was the best combination Rahul wanted. It hurt, you know, you're never happy…
Bal: There was never any bitterness?
Laxman: Definitely not.
Dravid: I mean, I think it happened only once or twice. I remember it happened in Mohali in a Test match against England…
Laxman: Four times!
Dravid: Okay, sorry about that!
Laxman: Yeah. Twice against England and both the Tests in Bangladesh [in 2007]. After being the vice-captain of the team in South Africa! But it happens, it's part and parcel of team sport.
"I don't miss batting. I miss spending time with my team-mates, the fun in the dressing room"
© ESPNcricinfo Ltd
"I don't miss batting. I miss spending time with my team-mates, the fun in the dressing room" © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
Bal: Let's now talk about Eden Gardens. Was that, in the truest sense, a life-changing experience for both of you?
Laxman: Yeah, definitely. Not only for both of us but probably for the entire Indian team. I think the mindset of the entire team changed. After that, when we were in similar situations, we always thought of what we had done in Kolkata. We knew what we could achieve. That Test series was one of the most memorable for both teams.
Dravid: For me, I had already played about five years of international cricket but I didn't have a match-defining performance. You knew at the end of that Test match, or that Test series, that irrespective of what you did from there on in, you would always be recognised and remembered for it.
So yeah, from that point of view it did change a lot of things in terms of our confidence and belief. And also, I think, it gave that squad the opportunity to be able to stay together for a long period of time, to be able to achieve some of the other things that we did in the next decade. Because if we had lost that Test match and gone on to lose that series I think a lot of things would've changed. We had just got a foreign coach; that probably would have changed. We would probably have had to rebuild and restart. The personnel might not have been the same.
Bal: Let's go back to that innings. It started, of course, with you two swapping positions. How did that play out? How did you take to your position being changed at that point?
Dravid: Laxman was batting really well. He batted beautifully in the first innings, when we were struggling as a side and there was some talk that I was struggling… I had struggled to score quickly in the first two Tests.
"You would watch from the other end and be like, 'Wow, how did he reach to the pitch of that one?' Laxman had that ability to get that long stride in and whip it"
Bal: You batted okay in Mumbai.
Dravid: I batted okay, I had a partnership with Sachin. So I didn't feel that I was batting badly. Yes, I was getting stuck, and it was a pretty good bowling attack and I wasn't able to score as quickly. But I guess Laxman showed fluency in that first innings in Kolkata. So John came to me and said, "Look, we are thinking of swapping the batting positions. I'm going to ask Laxman to bat at No. 3, what do you think?"
This was when Laxman was still batting. We had lost nine wickets and it was likely that we would be asked to follow on. It hurt me a little bit in terms of my pride and ego. I thought, "Look, I can go out and play well too." But I didn't say that to him. I just said, "Look, that's fine if that's what the team wants, and you feel that is the best way we can play them. Laxman is batting really well so you are not going to lose anything, so yeah, go for it, no problem."
Bal: John Wright says in his book that he read something that Ian Chappell had written about how a No. 3 batsman should play, how he should be an attacking player…
Dravid: (Laughs) It was early days in John Wright's coaching career, so I think he was getting too influenced by a lot of things…
Laxman: I was the last man to get out. I was removing my pads and John comes and says, "Keep them on because you are batting at No. 3." Honestly, at that point, it was not about whether I was happy or not happy. It was about doing something for the team and the situation we were in, 274 runs behind. There was no other thought in my mind. I just wanted to go out again and bat.
Luckily for me, [Sadagoppan] Ramesh and [SS] Das gave us a good start. They put on 50-plus for the first wicket, so it gave me time to absorb what was happening. See, I was always a natural No. 3 and that was a position from where I knew how to build an innings. The mental adjustment I had to make was to not think too much about what we were facing - 274 runs behind, three days to go - but to think about smaller goals.
The art of the impossible angle: Laxman fetches another from outside off in Kolkata
© Getty Images
The art of the impossible angle: Laxman fetches another from outside off in Kolkata © Getty Images
Bal: But was it just a question of prolonging the match? At that point did you seriously think that you could save it?
Laxman: There was no thought at all. Forget about winning, even lasting three days was going to be hard. We had lost the first Test in under three days and we were again in a miserable position. And the strong Australian bowling line-up was at its peak.
Dravid: We were thinking, "Let's just gain some respect here." Because we were not only losing, we were losing so badly. We lost in three days in Mumbai. We didn't cross 200 runs in the first innings in Kolkata. And so we needed to almost be like, "Let's play for respect here." And one thing led to another. Not thinking too far ahead, setting really small goals, looking to play one over at a time. Not really having these grand ideas about winning the Test match. Even when we had scored the runs, we knew we had to get that Australian team out, which was already so difficult because they were such a terrific batting line-up. Even when we got the runs, I don't think we really imagined that we would be able to bowl them out. We knew that we needed something special - which Harbhajan provided - in spite of all those runs, to actually win that Test match.
Bal: You've had a tough session and Ricky Ponting comes on to bowl. What does that do to you? Do you relax?
Dravid: I remember the ball was reversing at that stage and he did get a couple of balls to in-dip sharply, and one actually hit me on the pad and it was a loud shout for lbw. My first instinct as it hit me was, "Oh, I'm in trouble here." But luckily for me the point of contact was just outside the off stump and so I survived that. But that can happen because you're playing such a good bowling attack. You're playing [Jason] Gillespie, [Glenn] McGrath, [Shane] Warne, [Michael] Kasprowicz. Suddenly, Ricky Ponting comes on to bowl with a few overs to go for lunch and the ball is reversing. I don't think I let my guard down, just that he defeated me with one that came in late.
"When in severe pain, you somehow shut down the pain and concentrate on the cricket. And you are at your peak of concentration when you're in severe pain"
Bal: So at lunch, tea, and at the breaks, when you went back or when you were coming back, what did you say to each other?
Laxman: The crucial phase was when Rahul started cramping. He had a fever, coming into that game. He was on antibiotics. He started cramping, and Rahul would really cramp badly. So that was the time when I went and told him not to lose concentration because it was hot and humid. And at the end of the fourth day, when I was getting cramps in the back, he was telling me not to throw it away, so that we could achieve our goal of playing the entire day. I think those were important moments. More than playing the opposition bowlers it was about enduring our fitness issues.
Bal: What would John or Sourav tell you when you went back? Was there any sort of talk in the dressing room or did they leave you alone?
Dravid: Not much. Not much personally. I can remember I got through lunch fine, but by the time I reached tea, I was so tired that I just wanted to be left alone and drink as much water as I could and put a cold towel over me or get into an ice bath and just try and be fresh for that last session. But you could sense that everyone was egging you on. You could sense that a lot of them were coming and saying, "We're sitting in the same seats, we haven't changed our seats, and it's already tea now."
There was a good feeling in that group. We were up against an opposition that was really world-class and everyone was talking them up, and suddenly, for the first time in this series, there was this fight. And I think you could sense that everyone in the team was right behind you. Chetan Chauhan was our manager in that particular game and I remember he spoke after that first innings when we did badly. He said, "I really do believe we can come back in this game. We can really fight back."
Dravid: "When I first came in, the Australians sledged me. But you could sense as the partnership built that they didn't expect the fight"
© Getty Images
Dravid: "When I first came in, the Australians sledged me. But you could sense as the partnership built that they didn't expect the fight" © Getty Images
Bal: Sometimes these words can sound hollow…
Dravid: Yeah, they do sound hollow, especially when you've started losing wickets quickly. But when you start doing well, it comes back. You say, "Wow, he did mention it." For me I think it was around tea time, I remember talking to Laxman and saying, "You know, we could be in the middle of something special here."
You could sense that the Australians were dropping. You could sense that the heat was getting to them to some extent, and it was only around tea. When we were walking back, I sort of remember telling Laxman, "If we have another good session here, we could put some pressure on these guys."
Bal: At the same time did you suddenly start feeling the pressure, because now the match could be saved, or even won?
Laxman: I think we were already in a position where we could have saved the match, especially at tea time. From then on it was about winning the match. When you are in the zone, you are in such a high level of concentration you don't know what people are saying to you. When we started the day it was about winning small sessions, and if both of us were not out at the end of the day, we would have completed the task at hand. I think that was what we were focusing on.
We talked about how the squad got behind us, and I still remember every time the substitutes would get an opportunity to get a drink for both of us, they started sledging the Australians while going back. And the crowd got involved. When Sachin got out the stadium was empty, but suddenly the crowd started coming back once me and Sourav were having our partnership and then when me and Rahul got together. It's a phenomenal ground to play a Test match. When it's fully packed and you are doing well, there is so much positive energy.
Dravid: And the noise. When you hit a four and the crowd roars, it lifts you and must deflate an opposition. And you could sense that; you could sense the frustration as the partnership went on. The Australians expected this to finish very quickly. When I first came in, they sledged me: "From three to six and six to out of the team." But you could sense as the partnership built that they didn't expect the fight, they didn't expect us to bounce back the way we did.
And we came to know later that there were some in their dressing room who didn't want to come out and bowl the second time. Warne especially felt that Australia could have batted because there was so much time left in the game. But they had got us below 300 in three consecutive innings. I don't think they could have ever thought that we could do what we did. So we could sense that frustration, and you could feed off that. We started feeling that we could now get them.
"I needed IV fluids straight after the game in the dressing room. I remember feeling so tired, having that injection. It was a nice glow"
Bal: Laxman, it's not that you were defending. You played a lot of shots, and some outrageous ones against Warne. You knew you couldn't afford to lose a wicket but that didn't stop you from getting down the pitch and driving. Did you feel invincible?
Laxman: I was playing my natural game. I was playing to my strengths. It was not that I invented those shots in that innings; they were already there in my repertoire. I didn't think about the situation we were in, and that was the key. Because if you think about the situation, you panic. If you are not overawed by the situation, you just react to the ball. If I had swept Warne, that would have been against my natural game. But playing against the spin through midwicket, and with the spin through the covers, was my strength. I was coming into the series with a lot of big scores. I had a triple-hundred against Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy semi-finals, I had nine or ten consecutive hundreds. So I just came with a lot of confidence and rhythm.
Bal: How challenging is it to keep your concentration going over such long periods?
Dravid: There were phases in the game when your concentration kept going in and out because of the heat. I wasn't particularly well leading up to the match. Before a Test match I like to prepare really well and practise really well, but I had not even seen Eden Gardens before the game. We reached the venue two days before the Test, and I fell sick. The first time I opened my kitbag was on the first day of the match, so I was struggling a bit physically. It was just a question of having that determination to keep carrying on. And I was pushed by Laxman to keep going. He felt the need to push me more in that innings than in other instances. I remember him talking to me a lot more through that innings than he's ever done. I think he felt that I was struggling at various stages.
Laxman: I was also not well. In fact, I was not going to play that Test. Three days before the match started, I had stiffness in my back when I was batting in the nets. I walked into Andrew Leipus' treatment room and I said, "Andrew, there is some stiffness in my back." And he said, "Some stiffness? Just watch yourself in the mirror." And for the first time I saw I had a list - where your spine is curved towards one side.
I never thought I would make it. Credit to Andrew for the way he managed me and made me fit to play that match. I think it was more about enduring the pain. It's strange sometimes. When in severe pain, you somehow shut down the pain and concentrate on the cricket. And you are at your peak of concentration when you're in severe pain.
Dravid: I haven't batted in as much pain. I've batted with cramps. I was always cramping, especially early on in my career. I probably learnt to manage it better later on. There were periods of play [in Kolkata] when you had these cramps, when you suffered from heat exhaustion, and you were struggling. It was hard to concentrate. But surprisingly you are able to focus and concentrate on the cricket, because all the other thoughts disappeared. You can't worry about too many things. You can't worry about bowlers, opposition, runs scored. Suddenly your mind is not thinking of the pain.
Adam Gilchrist was the first to congratulate Laxman after he got to his double-hundred
© Getty Images
Adam Gilchrist was the first to congratulate Laxman after he got to his double-hundred © Getty Images
Bal: Were you aware that Laxman needed a bit of a breather on the fourth afternoon? It seems that you played a lot more balls.
Dravid: No, it was not a conscious effort. Maybe we just got stuck at one particular end, or I wasn't able to rotate the strike as much. Or maybe they bowled a little more defensively to Laxman because he was already 150-plus by then. So I wasn't really trying to protect him. It's hard to protect a guy who's smas-hing it!
Bal: What sort of treatment did the two of you get in the tea break?
Dravid: For me the cramps were important. I remember this new thing had come out, the cold collar neckerchief. It was a handkerchief that they would put in ice and bring out onto the field. It was so hot in Kolkata that when the substitutes left, just after giving us the neckerchief in the drinks break, [the neckerchief] was already warm.
Bal: At what point did the mental challenge become bigger than the physical challenge?
Dravid: It really became a lot tougher mentally after lunch and closing in on tea, because of the heat, the conditions, the pressure, and the fact that I was cramping. From there it was really about just focusing on one ball at a time, not worrying about anything else and saying, let me get through this one ball, let me get through this one ball.
Bal: There's this one time you were getting treatment for cramps, and all the Australian fielders were sitting down or lying on the field, trying to loosen up. You could see that they were tired. When did you guys start feeling, "Okay, now we have them down, we should not let up"?
Laxman: I think the important opportunity for them was with the second new ball at the start of the fourth day. We discussed this when we were walking out, that we had to get through that new-ball period. I think McGrath and Gillespie were at their best, but once they got Matthew Hayden on to bowl, we could sense they were obviously not happy with what was happening, because the Australians never ever give up. If you see the way Ponting, even at the end of the fourth day, tries to stop the ball at the boundary, it shows their attitude. But they got in these part-time bowlers when they realised they had to save their main bowlers to return once a wicket fell.
Bal: What was being said on the field? Was there much sledging?
Dravid: I don't think they sledged too much, it was just chit-chat. In my experience with the Australians they didn't carry on for too long.
Laxman: They never ever sledged me. They were very, very smart about whom to sledge. When they realised their sledging was having no effect, they wouldn't do it. I still remember the way [Adam] Gilchrist was appreciating some of the shots I was playing and he was the first one to congratulate me after I got the double-hundred. The Australians I played against were very sporting.
Dravid: You had to get their respect, and once you got it, you could sense it. I'm sure they said the odd thing early on in the innings, but after that I didn't sense it.
The other thing was, they had only one spinner. That definitely worked to our advantage because there was only so long Warnie could keep bowling in that heat, and he had to keep bowling at one end. Once we played Warne well - and Laxman played him beautifully - it put a lot of pressure on Steve Waugh to try and bring back his fast bowlers, which, as the day wore on, became harder and harder.
Bal: Rahul, Warne was tossing it up and in the first Test he had got you out bowled because you weren't to the pitch of the ball. Then you see somebody like Laxman play Warne inside out…
Dravid: When you see those kinds of shots, you tell yourself, "Don't copy this." It was an incredible shot. He started playing that because he didn't necessarily sweep, and once he felt there were gaps on the off side - and he was in such good form at that stage - he had the audacity to do that, to open up an off-side gap from way outside leg stump against a ball spinning from the rough. I was never going to copy that.
I had my own game and I was playing Warne differently. He had got me out a couple of times before that innings, so I knew he was trying to bowl on middle and leg stump, and I was falling across a little bit in that particular innings. So I was very conscious of not falling across on the leg side, and getting my left leg out of the way and looking to play him as straight as possible. And if he dropped anything short, then I knew I was going to cut or pull him.
"When you're in the zone you're not thinking about anything. Even when you see the message on the big screen, you're not thinking about it"
Bal: When you saw Laxman playing those shots did you ever think, "That's Warne taken care of, I don't have to bother about Warne"?
Dravid: You have to individually still go out there and play him. Just because your partner is batting beautifully against him doesn't mean you don't have to play him. You could sense the pressure it was putting on someone like Warne. Runs were going constantly and at this stage you could sense the frustration between Warne and Steve Waugh because they were trying everything. And what can one tell a bowler when he sees a shot like that and then looks at his captain as if to say, "What am I gonna do, skip?"
Bal: Laxman, was there any kind of predetermination with the inside-out drive? Or was it pure instinct?
Laxman: I had practised it a lot. In fact, I used to get caught and bowled to legspinners before 2000. So I started practising playing with the turn and also against the turn. Luckily for me, in Hyderabad we had quality spinners - Venkatapathy Raju and Kanwaljit Singh, who I played a lot in the nets. At that time I was using my feet a lot compared to the latter part of my career, so it was an instinctive thing. I was reacting to the ball that was coming.
Bal: And the drive through the on side?
Laxman: Because I had practised it so much it had become second nature to me. And the important thing for me was to come down to the pitch of the ball, which I did really well in that Test match. I used to come close to the ball so that the ball would have no opportunity to turn.
McGrath lbw Harbhajan: India take a classic
© Getty Images
McGrath lbw Harbhajan: India take a classic © Getty Images
Bal: When did you decide you were going to play through midwicket or extra cover? As you came down, what made you decide where you were going to play the ball?
Laxman: It was not something I decided. It depended on the field set. Usually a left-arm spinner or legspinner has a catching cover, and there's a gap between midwicket and mid-on. Depending on the field placement, I could play on either side of the wicket.
Dravid: You have a sense in your head that says, "Okay, if the ball pitches here, I might play this shot. This is the shot option available to me, so if he pitches it here he's got this field, this could be an option." You're not predetermining what you'll do this ball, or the next time he pitches it there. You just have a sense of it and then it sort of happens like an instinctive kind of thing. It happens automatically.
Laxman: Also the line [was important]. For all the shots that I played through the on side off Shane Warne, the line was on middle and leg. I never tried to on-drive something from off stump or outside the off stump. I was very sure about what line he was bowling, so that I could cover the spin, which was very important. It's very difficult to cover the spin when the ball is pitching on the off stump and turning away from you. If it's pitching on leg and middle, you can still cover the spin. Picking up the line very early gave me the opportunity to play on the on side.
Dravid: I think among some of the guys I played with, Laxman probably had the best ability to get to the pitch of the ball. He's a tall guy, and he used that height really well in terms of his feet movement. That's why he had the ability to play both on the on side and off side, both with the spin and against the spin, because he generally reached the pitch of the ball. Whether it was, as he said, early on in his career when he used his feet a lot to get to the pitch, or later on where he used a big stride to be able to get to the pitch of the ball. And he was brilliant at doing that. You would watch from the other end and be like, "Wow, how did he reach to the pitch of that one?" He had that ability to get that long stride in and whip it, and he got the wrists into play. You can only get your wrists into play if you are to the pitch of the ball.
"I remember talking to Laxman and saying, 'You know, we could be in the middle of something really special here'"
Bal: After tea you realistically could save the match or you could win it. And you were perhaps physically exhausted. Was that, physically and mentally, the toughest period?
Laxman: For me, it was the last one hour. I had a decision to make: whether to go for my triple-hundred or to achieve our goal with which we had started the day - not losing a single wicket.
Bal: You said that to yourself?
Laxman: I remember Rahul took the majority of the strike in the last hour because I was cramping badly in my back. And even when Justin Langer was bowling I could have easily taken him on. But I didn't want to lose a wicket. I thought it was important to keep the team's goal ahead of my personal goal, even though I knew we were probably going to declare the next day. So I would say the last hour was very critical for me for enduring my pain and also controlling my thoughts about the triple-hundred. Definitely there was a temptation for me to play some shots off someone like a Justin Langer, but I had to control my instincts.
Dravid: For me, I felt like there was a second wind towards the back end of that innings. In Kolkata it's really hot in the day and you get that cool breeze sometimes in the evenings. I felt there was a little bit of a cool breeze. You were conscious of the fact that you wanted this partnership to last, you wanted this last bit of play. All the good work could have got undone in this last session.
Bal: What was the feeling at the end of the day?
Dravid: I was too tired to feel anything at the end of the day. I was really cramping up and two or three times in my career I had needed drips. I needed IV fluids straight after the game in the dressing room. I just remember feeling so tired, just lying down having that injection. It was a nice glow, it was a lovely feeling. As you're lying down there you're thinking, it was great being part of that partnership. I had experienced that once in a Ranji Trophy game at the same ground [adding 299 with Arjun Raja against Bengal in the quarter-final in 1991], and to have that experience again and to bat for the whole day, you know you've done something special. You also knew, though, that the Test match hadn't been won and that if we did win, it would be really special.
The Australia hands: Laxman and Dravid will forever be known for two wins against Waugh's team - Kolkata 2001 and Adelaide 2003
© Getty Images
The Australia hands: Laxman and Dravid will forever be known for two wins against Waugh's team - Kolkata 2001 and Adelaide 2003 © Getty Images
Bal: You could have lost it from there also.
Dravid: I don't think we could have lost it. But we didn't have that confidence to declare straightaway. I think that just showed where we were as a team. We were a young team, a developing team, a growing team. And even though we were 300 runs ahead, we didn't want to take that chance of declaring overnight, because the Australians had won 16 Tests in a row and they had all these guys and they scored at four runs an over.
Also, I think it's important to remember that Anil Kumble wasn't playing and Harbhajan Singh was a young spinner. So we needed to put them in a situation where they couldn't win the Test match.
Laxman: Sachin played such an important role. He got three important wickets. There was an important partnership and even on the final day we thought that Australia could come close, especially post-lunch, when they were cruising. We got crucial wickets at the right times and there were some brilliant catches. Hemang Badani came on as a substitute and took a fantastic catch, Ramesh took some fantastic catches in that Test. I think it was an overall team effort, and everyone was desperate to win that Test match. If we hadn't won, we wouldn't have enjoyed that Test as we're doing now.
Dravid: It raised the profile of the partnership. Otherwise it would have been just another 300-run partnership - you saved a game, you played well. But the win made it truly special.
Bal: What did you do on the fourth evening?
Dravid: We went to Sourav's place for dinner. There were two days between the Test matches, so there was hardly any time to celebrate. I think Sourav had invited the team beforehand. I remember going there for a short time, but I took a car and came back early because I really wanted to sleep.
Bal: Did people talk about the match there?
Laxman: I think on the fourth evening it hadn't sunk in that something special had happened. It was only after winning the match, after reaching Chennai, that we all really celebrated. It was after that flight from Kolkata to Chennai.
Bal: Just before tea, there was a message on the big screen that said Jagmohan Dalmiya had announced a reward of so many thousand rupees per run you had scored. Did you notice that? What did you think about that?
Laxman: I noticed that. It's such a big screen you can't miss that. But again, I never had any thoughts about it because I was just enjoying batting, enjoying building the partnership with Rahul. So there was no distraction at all. When you're in the zone you're not thinking about anything. Even when you see the message on the big screen, you're not thinking about it. That's the best part about being in a zone.
Bal: So you didn't discuss it at all?
Dravid: No, we didn't discuss this. I might have done a little mental calculation of the amount of money Laxman was going to make! Honestly, I don't even remember it. I remember the "congrats" that came up when he passed Sunil Gavaskar's 236. I remember going up to him, because that was a big mark. That was something we had only seen on television and we had heard about, and to have someone of your generation hold that record, well that was very special.
Bal: After the Test, did it occur to you at some point that it might be the greatest performance of your lives, and that you might never get that high again?
Dravid: Not when you're 28. You think you'll have more days like this. I knew I was a part of something that I would always be recognised and remembered for. I knew the kind of innings Laxman played would probably be one of the best that I would ever see. I knew that it would be hard to play another series like that again.
Laxman: It happened again. The Test in Adelaide [in 2003], it did happen. [There was also] the win at Jo'burg in 2006, or even in the West Indies, when we won in Trinidad in 2002. But I think what made that Test series so special was it was against the invincible Australians. It was like someone doing well against West Indies in the '70s or '80s - against the best bowling attack and the best team.
Dravid: The next time I met players from other countries, the next time I met Brian Lara, they always came up and said, "Well played, that was a fantastic series." Then you started realising, "Yeah man, this was special."
"The way the Australians played helped the entire Indian team. I think we raised our level every time we played them"
Bal: On the scale of human relationships - parents, children, wives - where would you put a batting partner?
Dravid: God, that's a deep question! I've never thought about it like that. There are shared memories, there are great memories. I think those memories will always stay with you, whatever you do in life. You always forget the bad things that have happened, and remember the good things you share with a team or share with a partner. You miss that side of things.
Laxman: A lot of people have asked me this question after my retirement: "Do you miss playing cricket?" I tell them I don't miss batting, but I miss spending time with my team-mates, the challenging moments we've won together, the fun we had in the dressing room, the camaraderie we shared. I think that's something you can never get when you're away from the game.
Bal: History will always remember Laxman and Dravid together in that sense.
Dravid: You never know how long people will remember these things, but I think personally we both know that we'll always be linked by these two special Test matches. Funnily enough, without actually planning it, on the exact date ten years later, we just happened to be together at my place. His family and my family; we hadn't planned it because we didn't even realise. Somebody sent us a message and we both just happened to be together. It was just a strange coincidence. I think we'll always remember that very, very fondly, and I hope we won't bore too many people as we grow older talking about it. And I hope we haven't bored too many people talking about it now.
Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo. @sambitbal
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